Posted by: danashaw16 | April 16, 2020

Avoiding the Glass Cliff in Tech

There is a very large gap between men and women in the technology industry.  Women make up 47% of all employed adults in the United States, but in 2015, only 25% held computing positions.  Of that 25% only 5% are Asian, 3% African American, and 1% Hispanic.  This seems to be one of the largest gender and race gap that we have seen this semester.  The number of women receiving degrees in computer science is actually declining.  In 2016, only 19% of women earned bachelor’s degrees in computer science, compared to 27% in 1997.  Once women do receive jobs in this field, 20% said that their gender made it harder for them to succeed because of the male dominated workplace.  However, I came across an article about a very successful female CEO.

Lisa Su, became Advanced Micro Devices’ (AMD) first female CEO in 2014.  The company is was founded in 1969, meaning that it took them 45 years to hire a female CEO.  When she took the position of CEO, AMD was at an all time low.  They were losing billions of dollars and had cut 15% of their workforce.  Analysts were pronouncing AMD “uninvestable.”  However, Su was not afraid of the challenge, and began to slowly change how the company was run.  When she started, HR and the communications team wanted to put together a mission, vision, and value statement.  However, Su knew that would take months and the company couldn’t afford to wait.  Instead she outlined three objectives for the company, “To build great products, deepen customer relationships, and simplify everything we do.”  The simple message stuck with the employees more than a 10-point value statement would have. 

Su credits her leadership style to her management training programs and her mother, an entrepreneur.  Lisa started by managing smaller teams, and now oversees a large, global organization.  She emphasized the importance of communication, and everyone working towards the same goal.  She has an “open-door policy” where anyone in the company can message her to ask questions or address concerns.  She receives insight from lower levels, on what is working for the company and what is not.  Su also stated, “One of the most important things for a CEO is not to get insulated.”  She knows she needs to talk to her staff, interact with customers, and read reviews on AMD’s products.  She also believes in a culture of learning.  She motivates her staff by using the 5% rule or becoming a little better each time.  She stated that asking for 50% feels like asking for the impossible, which in turn would lead to less productivity and low morale.

Some questions to ponder:

What do you think of Su’s journey to the CEO position?  How would you categorize her leadership style?  Do you think the company could have been turned around by a man, or was a woman what the company needed? Why?  How do you think her actions differ from the way a man would have run things? How do you think Su avoided being “thrown off the glass cliff?”


  1. I find it so interesting that this topic of women in the computer science industry is one of the blog posts because just yesterday I was discussing the female representation in computer science at CNU with one of my male friends who is a computer engineering major. He said that in his classes there is typically one or two token females. Therefore, when reading the statistics at the beginning of this blog post I wasn’t surprised, but I certainly was thoroughly disappointed, especially at the fact that the number of women receiving degrees in computer science is declining. As for AMD and Su’s journey, I was again, shaking my head while reading that it took 45 years and a failing company to recruit a female CEO. This recruitment of a woman at a time when the company is failing or in critical condition is too common to not consider its message. Why do companies continually entrust the fate of their company at its most critical point in the hands of a woman, however when the company is doing well women leaders aren’t considered for the position. This was a topic of conversation in my first interview with a woman in a male dominated field, as the woman I interviewed was often assigned to go into a company that needed her help in identifying what wasn’t working, determining what needed to be changed, and motivating individuals to follow in accordance to these new objectives.

    As for Su and her leadership style I would consider her an authentic leader because of her open style of communication and honestly with her subordinates. I love that she implemented an open door policy and prioritized listening to lower level officials as they spoke to what was and was not working as I believe this is such an important touch because leaders who are willing to take criticism and hear from their subordinates are better off because of it. As for your question of whether or not the company could have been turned around by a man, I think it is definitely possible, however since the company was in such bad shape, I think that it was important to refresh and bring in a female with different tactics was an important aspect. Perhaps the communal style of leadership would not have been implemented had the CEO been a man, or perhaps a man wouldn’t have been so accepting of criticism.Overall, I love to hear of these major success stories for women in these high-level leadership positions.

  2. Su entered the position of CEO during a time where the company was losing momentum. This was a prime example of the “glass cliff” phenomenon by bringing in a woman to solve the company’s crisis. Her leadership reflects the stereotypical feminine leadership traits that value collective input and meaningful and fruitful relationships with employees and customers. By incorporating these new approaches to AMD using slower transition tactics and providing realistic aims to boost the confidence of her staff (like the 5% rule), Su was able to increase the morale of the environment and change the stagnant dynamics between the CEO and the employees, and avoid being thrown off the “glass cliff.” I liked her open forum platform between all ranking levels of her staff. It showed that she values having power through others rather than be perceived as having power over others, which was the case before she stepped into the position. People are more likely to follow leaders who are transparent, take responsibility for their actions, and include others’ input aside from their own. This lets the employees recognize the important contribution their work makes in reaching the common goal or mission of the company.

    It is hard to say whether a man could have turned the company around just as well as a woman, because it depends on the leader. The company could have chosen a woman to be the CEO who has a leadership style reflecting traditionally masculine leadership traits, or a man who has a leadership style reflecting traditionally feminine leadership tactics. Nevertheless, I do think Su had the expert power and experience from managing smaller successful businesses that propelled her to do well in reinvigorating this company that was going downhill.

  3. I really enjoy learning about women in the technology industry because I feel like we never really get the opportunity to do that! We always hear about the famous, rich and successful men who created mega companies or who are geniuses, but never much about the women. Maybe there are more men in the field, but even so I wish there was more information about the women shared with the public. In the case of Lisa Su, it was really great to learn her story! She obviously came into the company after they lacked female leadership and did a good job. While her journey definitely makes her stand out, her leadership definitely makes her stand up. She made quick decisions and was able to help the company in a new way. Her training made her a great candidate, and therefore I don’t necessarily think it was her gender that made the impact. However, I think a man might have acted similarly in the steps he took.

  4. This reminds me of a previous blog post about how women are given leadership positions during crisis because they are assumed to fail. Su took this position without worrying about the potential thoughts of others and made the business highly successful which is commendable to say the least. Her leadership style seems to be authentic and almost a servant leader due to her commitment in supporting her employees. I think the company could have been turned around by a man or woman, however, the company certainly need someone with Su’s leadership traits to be successful which happen to be stereotypically feminine. She avoids getting thrown off the glass cliff by refusing to be insulted and ensuring success in her company. She made a path for herself she refuses to get pushed off of for good reason.

  5. In my own experiences, I know very few women who are entering the technology, computer science field. Additionally, at CNU the IT service workers I see in the library are all guys. The fact that the number of women in the field was declining makes me wonder why this is happening. Are women opting out of this field? Or are they driven away from the field because it is male dominated? It is interesting to me because medicine is a traditionally male dominated field yet the number of women in this field is growing.

    Lisa Su is someone that I have never heard of before. Her ambition and drive to get the company back on its feet is inspirational. I think that it is people like her that will inspire younger generation women to go after careers that may be traditionally masculine. While this is true, younger generations first need to hear about these strong women, but that is another problem. Lisa Su’s leadership style aligns with how most women commonly lead. They are more of the transformational leader rather than a directive or authoritative leader. I think it is possible that a man could have turned the company around it might have just been done differently and the effects may not have been as long lasting.

  6. It is not surprising to hear, unfortunately, about the low amount of female CEOs or women in general within this field. There is an assumption that men would be better suited for these more analytical, technical careers, but as we’ve seen throughout this semester and in our own lives, this is simply not the case. I think that Su was given a great opportunity to ascend to her position, but unfortunately, she did face the possibility of falling over the “glass cliff.” Had she joined the upper rankings and failed, or perhaps not have had so much to overcome within her position, her notoriety might not have been as forthcoming. It seems that she was guided by her mother’s entrepreneurship, as well as her well-versed educational background and experience. Many have commented that she is an authentic leader. I would also argue that she is a collaborative leader, as she learned to ask for feedback, have an open door policy, and encourage those around her to perform well. A man very well could have helped the company during that time, but as collaborative leadership is more generally seen as a feminine leadership style, I think that helped offer a different perspective than the company had previously implemented. She was able to receive the appropriate training and the support that she needed, which aided her as well. However, it seems that her communicative style offered a new approach to management, and thus she avoided being thrown off of this glass cliff. She set the standards that she needed to, and now hopefully this will open the doors for more women to be successful at this company and others.

  7. We talk a lot about good leadership emerging from chaos and I think that her journey is a prime example of this. I do see that this situation could have easily turned into a “glass cliff” situation, especially if she had done what HR and Communications had wanted her to do in the beginning. Overall her journey is inspiring and empowering. Because of this, I would categorize her as an empowering, collaborative leader who strives to boost morale and focus on appreciation of workers rather than on hard numbers of progress. I do think that the company could have been turned around by a man, they just needed the right kind of leader which they happened to find in Su. Certainly, it made their chances of choosing the right person greater by hiring a woman, as the qualities necessary for leadership required are most often found in women, but that does not mean that a man could not possess those qualities and perform just as well. However, a man may be more assertive, more focused on numerical progress rather than morale, and thus may have created a more “dictatorial” environment rather than a collaborative atmosphere. I think Su avoided being thrown off of the glass cliff by not following HR and Communication’s advice and instead addressing the issue immediately with setting three, more easily achievable goals. She was supportive of her team and worked with them instead of barking orders. Thus, her subordinates liked her and the company’s success improved so she was not thrown from the glass cliff.

  8. I would say her leadership style is very collaborative especially with her open door policy. She knows she has to be open with all of her employees and customers and in doing so she builds trust and like-ability. Most bosses can be insular and not care about their employees and customers and are simply focused on profit, but that’s ironic because you need the employees and customers to attain that profit. I think the company could’ve been turned around by a man or woman, it just depends on how the leadership fits the context. Regardless of gender, if a person had instituted the same values and open door policy as Su did, the company would still be successful. I will say that her open door policy is more of a feminine style of leadership whereas a man would have most likely tried to have been more assertive and make immediate change. She avoided being thrown off the glass cliff by not being consumed by the success of becoming CEO. She realized the company was in shambles and instead of basking in the title she saw what needed to be done and got to work.

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